Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple)
Wat Rong Khun, located in Northern Thailand outside Chiang Rai, is unlike any other temple in Thailand in both design and history. Also known as The White Temple, Wat Rong Khun is a contemporary Buddhist temple that just began construction in 1996 and is still not completed*. Thai painter-turned-architect Chalermchai Kositpipat designed the temple with the intention of creating an elegant appearance to honor Buddha’s purity. His original intention was to make it shine and sparkle in the sunlight, but Kositpipat ultimately designed the White Temple to specially be viewed in moonlight when it looks distinctly like a ghostly otherworldly apparition straight out of a Thai version of Tolkien.
Beyond the beautiful karst ponds, the temple appears to be made from glistening porcelain, but it actually covered in whitewash and hundreds of thousands of clear-mirrored chips. Unusually creepy statues scatter the property (including Predator?) and to get to the sanctuary of the wat, you cross a bridge that spans a hundred ghoulish arms reaching into the air that supposedly symbolize desire. Past that, two 2.5m statues of two guards hold swords and are poised to “take off the head off” anyone who continues along the bridge. Abnormal naga (mythical serpent), elephant and Buddha decorations are rampant around the wat and outside the main entrance, a security guard sat and verbally ‘disciplined’ disrespectful tourists over a microphone and amp – a little odd for a temple.
Inside the wat, familiar images representing the samsara (the realm of rebirth and delusion) cover the walls as opposed to traditional Buddha scenarios – various scenes including Neo from the Matrix, Superman, spaceships, and most disturbing to me: a plane smashing into one of the Twin Towers with an oil rig springing out of the other burning tower. In the center, a wax statue of a monk sat cross-legged; so realistic, it left us arguing whether or not it was an actual person.
It’s the type of place to leave you in awe of the beautiful architecture, but in complete wonderment of the eccentricity.
UPDATE (Summer 2014): “On May 5 of this year, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck Mae Lao, located 17 miles southwest of Chiang Rai. Wat Rong Khun sustained significant damage, and a devastatd Kositpipat initially declared that the temple would have to be demolished. Subsequent evaluations, however, have found that the cracked pillars, damaged murals, and broken spire can be repaired. The restoration process is expected to take about two years. Travelers can still visit the temple, but may not be allowed inside depending on the work being undertaken at the time.” (Slate.com)
*In researching, I found a lot of conflicting dates. The temple began construction between 1996-1998 and had a completion date of 2008, 2070, or “60-70 years after the architect’s death.”